Your dog has an intestinal parasite! Now what?
This pet information prescription will help you know what to do, how to make your dog more comfortable, and how to prevent this from happening in the future.
Intestinal parasites (whipworms, roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms) are preventable, but the key is consistent, year-round use of effective preventatives on all of your pets (including indoor-only dogs and cats). There are many choices of preventatives and some are better (and safer) than others. Your veterinarian is truly your best resource for figuring out a safe and effective parasite prevention program for your dog.
Intestinal parasites are worms that live in your dog’s stomach or intestines (their gastrointestinal or GI tract). There are multiple species of parasites that can infect dogs, including roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, and whipworms. While some dogs may not show symptoms if they have low numbers of worms, other dogs, even with only a few worms, will have vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and a lack of energy. Sometimes, you will know your pet is infected with intestinal parasites when you see worms or parts of worms in your dog’s poop.
If intestinal parasites are left untreated, your dog could suffer from significant pain, become malnourished, underweight, and even spread the parasites to other people and pets.
Some intestinal parasites can be transmitted to humans (also known as zoonotic transmissions). So, it’s essential to treat your dog’s parasites to prevent spread to people and other pets. Be sure to wash your hands any time you’re picking up your dog’s poo and clean up all indoor potty accidents immediately. Pick up the stool from your yard regularly (immediately if your pet has a parasite infestation!). And it's also very important that all your pets be on parasite preventive medication to prevent the transfer of disease.
Dogs can become infected with intestinal parasites when they:
Puppies can become infected by ingesting milk from their mother if she has intestinal parasites.
Follow your veterinarian’s instructions to administer any anti-parasiticide products, also called dewormers. Depending on the parasite your dog has, their symptoms, and your geographic area, your veterinarian may treat your dog in their office with a liquid or injectable dewormer or send home an oral tablet or topical liquid that you will administer in between your dog’s shoulder blades.
Your veterinarian will likely also recommend rechecking a fecal sample (check out this article for tips on collecting a poo sample) and/or providing a second dose of dewormer, so be sure to follow their directions on this to ensure that the parasites have been fully destroyed!
The best thing you can do is to use the medication your veterinarian prescribed. Keep a close eye on what your dog is eating and monitor their stool when they go to the bathroom. If your dog has gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, like diarrhea or vomiting, they may also need a special GI-friendly diet that is easily digested as their stomach and intestines recover. Your vet may recommend a specific food or suggest a bland diet like cooked rice and baked chicken. A probiotic like Purina's FortiFlora® may also be recommended to help your dog’s GI system return to normal sooner.
If your dog was experiencing any symptoms (vomiting, diarrhea, lack of energy), these should improve within a few days of treatment. You should not see any worms or pieces of worms in your dog’s stool within one week, and their stool should be becoming more solid. Dogs that had been underweight should begin gaining weight.
If your dog is still vomiting, having diarrhea, not eating, or acting as if they don’t feel well within 4–5 days after their treatment, you should reach out to your veterinarian to determine the next steps.
If you are still seeing worms or pieces of worms in their stool after one week, your veterinarian may wish to prescribe a second dose or a different dewormer. They may also recommend that you bring in another fecal sample to ensure that another type of parasite isn’t present. Be sure to ask them for their guidelines on how old the sample can be before bringing it in – a general rule of thumb is to bring in a sample that is no older than 12 hours old.
Luckily, intestinal parasites are often very preventable. It’s important to start by treating your dog, and all animals in your home, for any intestinal parasites as soon as they are diagnosed. Next, your dog should be on a regular parasite prevention regime. Luckily, many external parasite preventative products (for fleas, ticks, and heartworm disease) also address internal parasites, so it’s easy to make this a one-and-done.
After your dog’s infestation has seemingly resolved, it’s important to recheck a fecal sample to ensure that treatment was fully successful. Depending on the parasite and your geographic area, 1–2 rechecks spaced a few weeks apart is recommended.
Remember to get a fecal sample checked on all pets in your household at least yearly in order to detect any parasites before they become a problem in the future.
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